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Bill Thayer

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Gibson Harris

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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John Reynolds
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular plastered or stuccoed brick house, with a gable roof pitched at about 45°, with a chimney at either end. The front door is arched, and flanked by two windows on either side; the upper story have five similar windows. A small side door is seen around the right corner of the façade. It is the George French House in Albion, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

George French House, Albion, Built 1841.

 p18  In the Georgian Manner

When the semi-utopian colony of English Prairie was in its prime, one of its best-known residents was George French. As a tailor and clothing merchant, he had become prosperous and highly esteemed. And the house he built then, a two‑story brick dwelling in the Georgian manner, still stands. It is one of the historic landmarks of the city of Albion, which was the commercial center of the pioneer settlement of English Prairie.

Although there is no proof of it, local historians are certain that George French was among the many who were induced to come to English Prairie by reading the books and writings of the colony's two founders, Morris Birkbeck and George Flower.​a

Originally, the early settlers of English Prairie lived in log cabins. They were mostly English tenant farmers who had acquired sufficient capital to purchase land of their own in America and who had come to English Prairie, in Illinois, because of its fertile soil and its ideal location  p19 between the North and South. As they thrived and prospered, they supplanted their log cabins with frame and brick dwellings.

Just when George French arrived at English Prairie has not been determined, but it is known that he built his brick house in 1841. This was at a time when brick houses were first beginning to appear in Illinois. A year after the French dwelling was built, another prominent resident of the colony, Frank B. Thompson, erected a brick house next door to the George French abode.

It is said that George French designed his own house. If so, he reproduced, in a minor way, an architectural style that was prevalent in England earlier. Here is found the elliptical arched doorway with fanlight and sidelights, as well as cornices and stone band courses, of a typical dwelling of the Georgian era.

Situated across from the Courthouse Square at the junction of two important highways in Albion, the French house and the Thompson house (now occupied by Albion's public library) have long been noted as landmarks by passing motorists. The interior of the George French home is commodious, simple, and dignified and is enhanced by several attractive fireplaces.

For many decades this house was occupied by Elizabeth French, daughter of the original owner. She lived a quiet existence here and then, after her death some years ago at an advanced age, an interesting discovery was made in the house. It was found that Miss French had been painting pictures for many years and her oils and water colors were in practically every room of the ancient residence.

Thayer's Note:

a For full details on the "English Settlement", see Solon J. Buck, Illinois in 1818, especially Chapters 3 and 4; for the works of Birkbeck and Flower and other source material, see his Bibliography, including my addendum.

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Page updated: 4 Dec 07